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Saudis Show Alleged Iranian Weapons Used In Oil Attacks; Trump Names New National Security Adviser; Politico: Rep. Nancy Pelosi Told Lawmakers, "Feel Free To Leak" Her Displeasure With Rep. Jerry Nadler; Poll: Sen. Elizabeth Warren Closes Gap With Joe Biden After Democratic Debate. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired September 18, 2019 - 12:00   ET




JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Welcome to "INSIDE POLITICS". I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us. President Trump announces new sanctions on Iran and his pick for a new national security adviser. This, as Secretary of State Powell arrives in Saudi Arabia and the Saudis display what they say are Iranian weapons used to attack the kingdom's oil facilities.

Plus Joe Biden still leads the Democratic pack. But the first national poll after the most recent Democratic debate shows Elizabeth Warren closing in and outpacing all of her rivals when it comes to voter enthusiasm.

And new wrinkles in the House Democratic family feud over impeachment. This, as Trump confidant Corey Lewandowski tells Congress there's nothing wrong with lying, and then gets schooled right here on CNN.


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: You confirmed that you were asked to obstruct justice.

COREY LEWANDOWSKI, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: No, Alisyn, please this is not what I confirmed at all. By the way, the Mueller report was very clear. There was no collusion, there was no obstruction.

CAMEROTA: That's not what the Mueller report said, Corey.

LEWANDOWSKI: It absolutely says that.

CAMEROTA: Time out, time out. Did you read the Mueller Report?

LEWANDOWSKI: No I never did.


KING: You want us to believe your book report, you should probably read the book. Back to that one a bit later. We begin the hour, though, with new evidence from the Saudis, fresh sanctions on Iran and a timely appointment at the Trump White House.

The Saudi defense ministry today unveiling what they say are Iranian weapons used in the attacks on those Saudi oil facilities over the weekend. The Saudis say these weapons were fired from north to south and did not come from Yemen. But they have yet to pinpoint an exact launch location.

President Trump, meanwhile, naming a new national security adviser this as he mulls how to respond to these attacks. Robert O'Brien is the pick. He's a hostage negotiator at the State Department and he will be this President's fourth national security adviser. He replaces John Bolton whose tenure entered just last week.

President Trump also announcing this morning quote "I have just instructed the Secretary of the Treasury to substantially increase sanctions on the country of Iran." Nothing from Treasury yet on the specifics, but new sanctions does suggest the President is one step closer to officially blaming Iran for the Saudi attacks.

The President has not been definitive himself. But Secretary of State Pompeo has directly blamed Iran. Later this hour, Pompeo due to arrive in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia for big meetings with the Saudi leadership, including the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Here with me to share their reporting and their insights Vivian Salama with "The Wall Street Journal"; Paul Kane with "The Washington Post"; CNN's Kylie Atwood and Julie Hirschfeld Davis with "The New York Times."

There's an escalation here you see playing out today. The President announcing sanctions, we'll see what they are. And even more significant, not to diminish what the President is doing, but the Saudis releasing these images - showing these - they say they have the evidence.

They say the attack did not come from Yemen. They say Iranian weapons were used. Secretary Pompeo about to hit the ground. Where's this go from here?

VIVIAN SALAMA, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Well, the ball's in America's court at this point, because the entire week, the administration has basically been deferring, kicking can down the road and saying we are not going to take any action or make any final assessment until we see what the Saudi investigation reveals.

And so, now that the Saudis are coming out with a more definitive verdict on who is responsible for the attacks, the U.S. is going to have to respond. But obviously President Trump is on the road. He's traveling out west and so that by itself is also delaying a lot of action that we've seen in this week.

And so we wait and see at this point. But the evidence is definitely looking increasingly likely pointing to Iran as the culprit, whether or not the weapon - the launches came from Iran. That still remains to be seen. KING: And we saw it CNN's reporting just yesterday, the sanctions was a bit of a surprise this morning in the sense that you did see the President had said locked and loaded. Then the administration said everybody calm down, we're going to try to get to the facts first here.

Vice President Pence yesterday repeats locked and loaded after a couple days of administration say everybody calm down and no knee jerk reactions to this. It's very systematic. What happens with patients is it prevents stupid moves said the source.

Now that is largely in the context of will there be any military response to this. But what does it tell you that as the Secretary of State is in the air, about to land in Saudi Arabia, the President says new sanctions.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Well he wants to make it seem like he - the U.S. is doing something here. Because what we've heard from the President and those close to him over the past few days is that they're really looking at Saudi Arabia.

As you said Vivian, they want to - they want Saudi Arabia to lead here. And as much as the ball is in the U.S. court, they've said that they're going to work with Saudi Arabia to coordinate a response.

So the President wants to come out and say, Hey even though we're meeting with the Saudis today, the Secretary of State is landing there, as you said just later this hour. We are still going to be taking some action on our own.


The question, however, is what more sanctions can the U.S. actually put on Iran. I mean, they've been leading this maximum pressure campaign for over a year now and you talked to experts who study the Iranian economy. They say that the maximum pressure campaign has had a devastating impact. But there's not much more left that the U.S. can really do here alone.

KING: And to that point, this is why some of the hawks, especially in Congress, were stepping forward, saying Mr. President we've supported you. Mr. President you've had the sanctions in place to your point. Mr. President what more can you do with sanctions? You're obviously not getting their attention.

Lindsey Graham, Republican Senator from South Carolina, calling this today testing time for the region and the United States. And he says "I hope we pass the test in the eyes of the Ayatollah." Lindsey Graham favors military strikes on Iranian oil facilities and he said this today.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): I'm hoping that Secretary Pompeo can pull together a coalition that will act in a fashion to change Iran's behavior. I support the idea of working on a regional coalition. I would like to see the President go to the U.N. and make the case that Iran's behavior is an act of war against Saudi Arabia and must be dealt with firmly.


KING: By regional coalition, he's not talking about a regional coalition to add new sanctions. He's talking about a regional coalition to strike Iranian oil facilities.

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CONGRESSIONAL EDITOR, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Right. I mean, it's one thing to talk about working with allies in a coordinated response. But it's another thing to sort of defer entirely to the Saudis, which is what we've seen the President doing in the run up to this.

And the question now is, now that they're being very clear about what the source was of these attacks, whether he is going to go ahead and order a military strike. There are a lot of members of Congress, including Senator Graham and lot of Republicans, who were very upset when the President pulled back from taking that strike after the drone downing.

And I think they feel like that was a failure of the test that that Lindsey Graham is talking about and they want to see if at this point the President is willing to go where he has signaled that he's willing to go and actually contemplate a military action.

But it's funny, because we do see the push pull on the President both inside and outside the White House. He seems to want to talk really tough and be aggressive, but when it comes to the brink of actually executing a strike, he has been unwilling to do that.

SALAMA: And what's really interesting is that we're going into the United Nations General Assembly next week and the President is going to go there and basically try to make a plea that we should all work together.

The President has been so critical of the United Nations thus far and has not been willing to work sort of in these broader coalitions when it comes to multilateral - any kind of multilateral action.

And so now he's going to go to the UN and say hey let's work together. It's going to be very interesting to see how allies receive him, especially since a number of European allies, in particular, have been actually urging for closer ties and to embrace the Iran nuclear deal that Trump withdrew from.

KING: And it's interesting to see the reaction. We've played Senator Graham there of his own party on Capitol Hill. If it were - if this were the Obama administration, and the Obama administration was being so deferential to the Saudis, I believe we'd be hearing that term leading from behind, which we heard quite a bit during the Obama years.

Don't put America out in front. We're not hearing that. But you are seeing pokes similar, without using that strong language Republicans trying to nudge him along by going on television, which is a favorite course.

Yesterday he had a Twitter back and forth with Lindsey Graham when Lindsey Graham said, the measured response by President Trump regarding the shoot down of an American drone - that was back a little time ago - was clearly when the Iranian regime - clearly seen by the Iranian regime as a sign of weakness.

And the President getting back in Senator Graham's face saying, "No Lindsey, it was a sign of strength that some people just don't understand." It's the hawks in the Republican Party who don't - they don't understand. They don't understand what the President's trying to do here.

PAUL KANE, SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: They don't understand that. And then there is also this sort of Mike Lee, Rand Paul wing which has been much more sort of passive. We don't want to get engaged in too many foreign wars, and they've been in the President's ear for basically a couple of years on this issue.

And the Saudis themselves have had a checkered recent past with a lot of American politicians. We're coming up on the one year anniversary of the Khashoggi murder. There are people like Chris Murphy that have been trying to reign in our alliance with the Saudis. So it creates a lot of divisions within both parties on this front.

KING: And what do we know about the new national security adviser? Number one, we do know Robert O'Brien - he's more of a career guy at the State Department. He's not out front like a John Bolton. He's not out front even like a Michael Flynn was, the first National Security Adviser or H.R. McMaster. We view him as more of a career operative.

We do know this. He has praised the President and the President is grateful for the praise.


ROBERT O'BRIEN, ENVOY FOR HOSTAGE AFFAIRS, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT: President has had unparalleled success in bringing Americans home without paying concessions, without prisoner exchanges but through force of will and the goodwill that's generated from the world.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The other day our great hostage negotiator made the statement that Trump is the greatest hostage negotiator this country's ever had. So, you know what, so I put it out. I put it out.


Why not? You know, a lot of times if you're not going to brag about it, nobody else is. You might as well do it.


KING: Is there more than that? Is this someone who has won the President's favor. He's also somebody works in the State Department under Pompeo who is ascendant without a doubt. And is it, let me complicate it a little bit further, is it proof we're going back to an older fashion of the NSC with the National Security Adviser pulls in everybody's opinion. He's more of a coordinator, not himself a policymaker?

SALAMA: Well, Robert O'Brien served under the George W. Bush administration, so that by itself, sort of. gives some of the more establishment Republicans a little bit of you know ease in the sense that he would kind of stick to their usual track for diplomacy.

But most recently Robert O'Brien actually kind of caught the President's favor, because he was the one of the leading negotiators that traveled over to Sweden when rapper ASAP Rocky was locked up for an altercation there and he went there basically trying to negotiate his release.

And that was something, obviously we heard President talk very publicly about it. It was something that was a great concern to him and so he definitely caught the President's attention with that as well.

I know from my reporting that O'Brien was at the White House last week and the President afterwards told his advisers he likes the look of him. President Trump, obviously, very into sort of central casting and he likes people's looks as part of their qualifications and so that was something he was telling his advisers. So here he is, he got the job, and it's going to be interesting to see moving forward how he changes things.

KING: Interesting moment. Dicey moment in which to take the job. We wish Mr. O'Brien the best. We have a question on today's big political stories for anyone here at the table you can tweet us. Use the #INSIDEPOLITICS. We might answer your question at the end of the program or on our podcast up next.

Feel free to leak this. That from the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi guarantees her impeachment angst. Makes the news.



KING: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is sending a loud message to her Judiciary Committee Chairman, pull back on impeachment. Quote, "You can feel free to leak this". That's what Pelosi told lawmakers in a meeting last week according to multiple people who spoke to POLITICO.

This refers to the speaker's displeasure at Jerry Nadler and his Judiciary Committee staff. In that meeting Pelosi complained, Nadler and his staff keep talking about impeachment as the likely result of their investigations, which she sees as putting the party at risk for a 2020 defeat.

Sources tell CNN, Pelosi repeated a version of that warning again this morning. That Pelosi would make clear she didn't want her remarks to stay secret underscores just how mad she is. Those developments also follow what some Democrats billed as their first impeachment hearing against the president.

Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski gave little new information at Tuesday's hearing. But he did offer this key bit of Mueller Report confirmation.


REP. HANK JOHNSON (D-GA): He wanted you to deliver to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, correct?

LEWANDOWSKI: I believe that's an accurate representation.

JOHNSON: And he wanted you to deliver it to Jeff, so that Jeff could say it to the people, right?

LEWANDOWSKI: I believe so.


KING: Tarini Parti with "The Wall Street Journal" joins our conversation. Let's do the Speaker's anger first to come back to Corey Lewandowski. We've known for some time, she thinks don't put this cart way out in front of the horse. The Senate's not going to do anything even if we have a case for impeachment. It's risky for us in 2020.

That she's now more and more in meetings being critical of the Chairman and his staff saying they've got the party out in an untenable position. What does that tell us?

KANE: Well the staff part is really important here, because Nancy Pelosi, if you're a duly elected member, if you are one of the 435 she knows you're important. You are a vote. If your staff your staff.

She once looked at the OMB Director Russell Vought in a big meeting about negotiations, and correct me if I got it wrong, I think her exact words were, "And what's your name again dear?" So staff should be staff. And this is the most critical decision that a House of Representatives can really make, impeaching the President or not.

And she keeps seeing polls that show the Right Wing is very much against it and they're very ginned up, they're ready to fight. The Left wants it, but they're just not as ginned up as the Right Wing, and that's just a terrible place to go into such an important fight. So she's trying to hold back the horse.

KING: She's mad, clearly, but isn't she somewhat also responsible? She's the leader of the group here. A majority of our members believe it's the right way to go. If she's going to tell them, I think, you're wrong and keep them in the corral, if you will - she's months late. The word impeachment - they have written the last chapter. They all say we're going to get to impeaching the President of United States and we're going to fill in the book.

DAVIS: Right. And there's a subtext of this. It's not just staff. I mean if it is, in fact, the Judiciary Staff that she's taking issue with then she's implicitly taking issue with Jerry Nadler himself, because he is the Chairman of the Committee and this is a strategy that has been devised by him.

She has signed off not only on the approach, but also on every bit of investigative work, every bit of legal work that the Judiciary Committee has done. So I think her quibble really is with more with messaging than with the strategy.

But that said, the spectacle of the divisions within the party has become very damaging and I think that's what's taking her off.

[12:20:00] And the more Nadler goes on TV and interviews and you know in opening statements in his Committee and says we are in an impeachment inquiry, we are in an impeachment investigation.

The less people are going to listen to her when she says, "We actually don't know where this goes. We're just doing our job as duly elected Members of Congress trying to investigate and oversee what the President does."

KING: And it also puts people back into their polarized corners, which is the world we live in. So that if you believe they're trying to impeach the President you're just - and you are a Trump supporter, you're mad, you're angry, you're not listening to when Corey Lewandowski says on the record, yes, it's in the Mueller report.

But he looked into a camera, confirms to a member of Congress, yes, the President called me and said "Hey, get Jeff Sessions" and to move on the special counsel. That's a big deal. That is potentially obstruction of justice. It's certainly a President of United States asking a private citizen to do something that a private citizen should have no role in doing.

But it gets lost when you're in your corner. Another thing Corey Lewandowski made clear, and this is part of the Trump doctrine, telling members of Congress, "Yes. I lied to the media, which is lying to you, the American public, who get your information often through the news media. He says no big deal.


BARRY BERKE, MEMBER HOUSE JUDICIARY STAFF: The question is are you a truth teller in that interview?

LEWANDOWSKI: I'm a truth teller every time I stand before Congress or a Committee of jurisdiction and raise my hand and swear to God under oath.

BERKE: My question, sir, is when you said the President never asked you to get involved with Sessions--

LEWANDOWSKI: I have no obligation to have a candid conversation with the media whatsoever, just like you have no obligation to cover me honestly.


think we all know that Corey Lewandowski feels this way given the way he talks to the media.

But I think that what we've seen with questions about the Mueller report is that it is so complicated. And the talk of impeachment with the details of the Mueller report, if you talk to swing voters, they don't really understand what's happened at this point with the Mueller report, with the impeachment process.

And they care more about issues like health care, and I think that's kind of what what's on Nancy Pelosi's mind right now, and trying to figure out a path forward for the party.

KING: I would just urge anyone watching, whatever your politics. When they lie to us, they are lying to you. When they lied to us, they are lying to you.

Up next the fight for first place among the 2020 Democrats gets a whole lot closer.



KING: To the 2020 race now and the state of play in the Democratic primary after last week's big debate. Brand new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll has the same five candidates leading the pack. But Joe Biden's hold on the lead is narrowing quite a bit.

Let's take a look. Here's the polling. Biden, Warren, Sanders, then Buttigieg and Harris down lower in single digits. Biden at 31 percent, up five points, so good for him, since the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll in July. But Senator Warren now clearly alone in second place nationally in this poll, up six points - up six points since July. That's good news for her.

Bernie Sanders holding remarkably steady. This has been a constant for him throughout the race so far. Mayor Buttigieg also holding steady. If you're Kamala Harris, minus eight points in the NBC Wall Street Journal poll since July. That is a source of concern.

Let's move through look at some more here. This is good news for Warren. They asked combined who's your first choice, who's your second choice? In that regard, Warren comes out on top. So she has room to grow. A lot of other people with other candidates say, she would be their second choice - 45, 41. You see Harris in the double digits in that one. But Warren has been the growth stock through the summer.

Take a look at this, what are Democrats looking for? This is why Joe Biden benefits from the crowded field and why if the field winnows, if Elizabeth Warren ever get a one on one with Joe Biden, what do Democrats want? Larger scale proposals that costs more, could be harder to pass. They want to go big. They want to go bold.

That's what Warren says. 56 percent of Democrats agree with her. Smaller scare proposals that cost less and could pass easier, that's essentially Biden's message. Let's build on Obamacare. Let's work with Republicans. Let's get things done. Only 40 percent of Democrats believe that.

So if she could get a smaller field, if she could get a one-on-one, at least at the moment, Democrats seem to be with her philosophically. Now you might remember, in recent days, Elizabeth Warren has said the Democratic Party can't look back. Does she mean Joe Biden? With a camera aimed at or she says, "Oh no."


STEPHEN COLBERT, COMEDY CENTRAL HOST: Everyone saw that as a veiled shot at Joe Biden. Is that accurate?


RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: I think broadly that was perceived as you talking there about Vice President Biden, was it?

WARREN: No. It's talking about whether we're going to turn backwards in just say the only problem is Trump. We get rid of Trump, everything is going to be just fine.

MADDOW: What's democratic choice would imply that?

WARREN: Right, but we can't do it and we can't even think of the problem that way.


KING: Good spin.

KANE: Well, that's what Joe Biden has been saying is that Trump is the biggest problem. So she's saying, no, no, no don't look it. That wasn't just about Joe Biden. It's about people that say Donald Trump is the - well, that's Joe Biden's message. Yes. Those two are headed for a clash.

PARTI: Exactly. I think, the question is when that will happen? I mean, we've we thought it would be during the last debate and we saw some of that on health care. But really they have not really attacked each other in the way that we would have expected at this point for two front runners. Especially as Elizabeth Warren has been gaining on Joe Biden, she's kind of pulled back and focused on getting more voters into her camp rather than going directly after Biden.

KING: At some point it has to happen. But Biden benefits--